Saturday, February 14, 2009

Writing Checks for Gaza is Easy; Politics is the Tricky Part - Chris Patten

The Guardian, January 27, 2009 - Shortly after I became a European commissioner in 1999 I visited Gaza and the West Bank to see how the European commission, under strong international pressure, could speed up disbursement of development assistance. I recall in particular visits to Gaza airport, subsequently ploughed up by the Israeli army, and to a general hospital. I visited the morgue that was under construction. It must have been badly overloaded in recent years.

After the second intifada began in the autumn of 2000, Israel stopped the transfer of tax receipts owed to the Palestinian Authority. In the following summer the commission began payment of direct budgetary assistance to the authority. There were tough conditions, overseen by international financial institutions. The infrastructure built by European money on the West Bank and in Gaza was systematically trashed by the Israeli Defence Forces in 2002. They were responding to horrific suicide bombings in Israel. Anything that might be seen to provide the sinews of government was destroyed - including the land registry, courts and police stations. This did not obviously advance the prospect of a two-state solution.

Throughout the period when budgetary support was provided, the European commission was accused by some Israeli lobby groups of bankrolling terrorism and corruption. We just about achieved our aim and managed to keep the Palestinian Authority afloat - even to reform it. As the responsible commissioner, I was privately encouraged by senior US state department officials to continue the support, and was never asked by Israeli officials to stop it. Europe was in effect fulfilling its now historic role of financing the terrible failure of policies laid down not in Brussels, but in Tel Aviv and Washington. Doubtless Europe is getting ready to do the same again....

Chris Patten (Lord Patten of Barnes), former European commissioner for external relations, is co-chair of the board of the International Crisis Group.

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